Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Four Reasons to Consider Gold In 2019

Here are just 4 of the largest current threats to the global economy, which all point to the viability of a Gold IRA to diversify your retirement portfolio:

1. Global Tensions and Conflicts

North Korea’s disarmament plans have ground to a halt. The U.S. decision to renege on the Iranian Nuclear Deal has tensions high and the recent U.S. backing of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital has further fanned the growing flames of perceived U.S. Mideast “interference.”

Another group of foreign diplomats are uneasy about U.S. support for Venezuela’s opposition leader, Juan Guaido. And today’s lower oil prices could become a distant memory if a host of Middle East relations do not improve and quickly. All of these factors can cause sudden chaos in the stock market, but rarely impact gold prices heavily.

2. U.S. National Debt

It’s not only concerning that we’ve passed the $22 trillion deficit mark, but even more concerning is the fact that the last $1 trillion was added in less than a year (for the first time ever). $22 trillion is more than the entire U.S. economy!

This condition is not only unsustainable, there appears to be no planned end in sight. Erosion of the dollar’s value continues as Baby Boomers continue to file for social security from a fund that’s been hemorrhaging for decades. China and Russia are lobbying and eager to fill a void being created by a continuing decline of the dollar’s value.

3. Banking Blunders and Bail-Ins

A big part of the 2008 financial meltdown had to do with a bank’s misuse of derivatives, which in 2018 achieved heights exponentially greater than 2008 levels. And for all the complaining about Dodd-Frank, the one thing that no one seems to be aware of is actually THE MOST IMPORTANT FACT: All bank deposits immediately become bank assets in the event of insolvency!

This means taxpayers are no longer a bank’s first line of defense. Instead, that “privilege” has been quietly dumped onto depositors. Your Checking or Savings accounts can now legally and without recourse be commandeered for the bank’s own financial needs.

4. An Oversold Stock Market

Top analysts have been warning about the growing possibility of a market crash even greater than the one experienced during the Great Depression. They hurry to point out the suspicious lack of “significant” corrections during the recent bull market, which became the longest in our history last year.

Just one factor in their concerns is the fact that public companies borrowed $1.1 trillion in cheap Fed money, made available by the Fed’s notorious Quantitative Easing program, which was earmarked for wage increases, infrastructure, and expansion. Then they spent $1.2 trillion on stock buyback programs that inflated stock prices, but did virtually nothing beneficial for the company, particularly in potential growth or even maintenance.

These warnings signs have led analysts predict a 70% correction this year. In fact, the CIA's Financial Threat Advisor Jim Rickards even stated on Money Morning that he believes a 70% drop is the best case scenario...

- Source, JPost

Monday, June 3, 2019

Crypto Is Here to Stay, Bitcoin Isn’t


Bitcoin is back! So say the true believers, even with Friday’s flash crash. But there less there than meets the eye.

Bitcoin has staged a notable comeback from its 2018 crash. From a level of about $4,000 through the month of March, 2019, bitcoin had a two-day 23% spike from $4,135 on April 1, 2019 to $5,102 on April 3, 2019.

Bitcoin then moved sideways in the $5,000 to $6,000 range until May 8, 2019 when it staged another three-day spike from $5,932 on May 8 to $7,255 on May 11, a 22% surge.

Combining the April 1 and May 8 spikes, the bitcoin price moved from $4,135 to $7,255 for a spectacular 75% price rally in six weeks.

By last Thursday morning, it soared even higher, to over $8,300.

This rally was bitcoin’s best price performance since its 83% collapse from $20,000 in late December 2017 to $3,300 in December 2018. That crash marked the collapse of the greatest asset price bubble in history, larger even than the Tulipmania of 1637.

The questions for crypto investors are what caused the recent rebound in the price of bitcoin and will it last? Is this the start of a new mega-rally or just another price ramp and manipulation? Has anything fundamental changed?

If you’re beginning to suspect these are leading questions, you’re right.

Of course, bitcoin technical analysts are out in force explaining how the 100-day moving average crossed the 200-day moving average, a bullish sign. They are also quick to add that the 30-day moving average is gaining strength, another bullish sign.

My view is that technical analysis applied to bitcoin is nonsense. There are two reasons for this. The first is that there is nothing to analyze except the price itself. When you look at technical analysis applied to stocks, bonds, commodities, foreign exchange or other tradeable goods, there is an underlying asset or story embedded in the price.

Oil prices might move on geopolitical fears related to Iran. Bond prices might move on disinflation fears related to demographics. In both cases (and many others), the price reflects real-world factors. Technical analysis is simply an effort to digest price movements into comprehensible predictive analytics.

With bitcoin (to paraphrase Gertrude Stein) “there is no there, there.” Bitcoin is a digital record. Some argue it’s money; (I’m highly skeptical it meets the basic definition of money).

Either way, bitcoin does not reflect corporate assets, national economic strength, terms of trade, energy demand or any of the myriad factors by which other asset prices are judged. Technical analysis is meaningless when the price itself is meaningless in relation to any goods, services, assets or other claims.

My other reason for rejecting the utility of technical analysis is that it has low predictive value when applied to substantial assets and no predictive value at all when applied to bitcoin.

If you follow technical analysis, you’ll see that every “incorrect” prediction is followed immediately by a new analysis in which a “double top” merely presages a “triple top” and so on.

Technical analysis can help clarify where the price has been and help with relative value analysis, but its predictive analytic value is low (except to the extent the technical analysis itself produces self-fulfilling prophesies through herd behavior).

That said, what can we take away from the recent bitcoin price rally, putting aside its flash crash for the moment?

The first relevant fact is that no one knows why it happened. There was no new technological breakthrough in bitcoin mining. None of the scalability and sustainability challenges have been solved. Frauds and hacks continue to be revealed on an almost daily basis. In short, it’s business as usual in the bitcoin space with no new reasons for optimism or pessimism...

Thursday, May 30, 2019

James Rickards: The Trade Wars Are Back

President Trump shocked markets yesterday when he announced that a new, heavy round of tariffs on Chinese goods will take effect this Friday. Complacent markets had assumed that a trade deal would get done, that it was just a matter of sorting out the details. Now that is far from certain. Failing a last minute deal, which is certainly possible, the trade war is back. And it could get worse.

What most surprised me about the new trade war was not that it started, but that the mainstream financial media denied it was happening for so long. The media have consistently denied the impact of this trade war. Early headlines said that Trump was bluffing and would not follow through on the tariffs. He did. Later headlines said that China was just trying to save face and would not retaliate. They did.

Today the story line has been that the trade war will not have a large impact on macroeconomic growth. It will. The mainstream media have been wrong in their analysis at every stage of this trade war. And it did not see this latest salvo coming.

The bottom line is that the trade war is here, it’s highly impactful and it could get worse. The sooner investors and policymakers internalize that reality, the better off they’ll be.

For years I’ve been warning my readers that a global trade war was likely in the wake of the currency wars. This forecast seemed like a stretch to many. But it wasn’t.

I said it would simply be a replay of the sequence that prevailed from 1921–39 as the original currency war started by Weimar Germany morphed into trade wars started by the United States and finally shooting wars started by Japan in Asia and Germany in Europe.

The existing currency war started in 2010 with Obama’s National Export Initiative, which led directly to the cheapest dollar in history by August 2011. The currency war evolved into a trade war by January 2018, when Trump announced tariffs on solar panels and appliances mostly from China. Unfortunately, a shooting war cannot be ruled out given rising geopolitical tensions.

The reasons the currency war and trade war today are repeating the 1921–39 sequence are not hard to discern. Countries resort to currency wars when they face a global situation of too much debt and not enough growth.

Currency wars are a way to steal growth from trading partners by reducing the cost of exports. The problem is that this tactic does not work because trade partners retaliate by reducing the value of their own currencies. This competitive devaluation goes back and forth for years.

Everyone is worse off and no one wins.

Once leaders realize the currency wars are not working, they pivot to trade wars. The dynamic is the same. One country imposes tariffs on imports from another country. The idea is to reduce imports and the trade deficit, which improves growth. But the end result is the same as a currency war. Trade partners retaliate and everyone is worse off as global trade shrinks.

The currency wars and trade wars can exist side by side as they do today. Eventually, both financial tactics fail and the original problem of debt and growth persists. At that point, shooting wars emerge. Shooting wars do solve the problem because the winning side increases production and the losing side has infrastructure destroyed that needs to be rebuilt after the war.

Yet the human cost is high. The potential for shooting wars exists in North Korea, the South China Sea, Taiwan, Israel, Iran, Venezuela and elsewhere. Let’s hope things don’t get that far this time.

But the easiest way to understand the trade war dynamics is to take Trump at his word. Trump was not posturing or bluffing. He will agree to trade deals, but only on terms that improve the outlook for jobs and growth in the U.S. Trump is not a globalist; he’s a nationalist. That may not be popular among the elites, but that’s how he sets policy. Keeping that in mind will help with trade war analysis and predictions.

Trump is entirely focused on the U.S. trade deficit. He does not care about global supply chains or least-cost production. He cares about U.S. growth, and one way to increase growth is to reduce the trade deficit. That makes Trump’s trade policy a simple numbers game rather than a complicated multilateral puzzle palace.

If the U.S. can gain jobs at the expense of Korea or Vietnam, then Trump will do it; too bad for Korea and Vietnam. From there, the next step is to consider what’s causing the U.S. trade deficit. This chart tells the story. It shows the composite U.S. trade deficit broken down by specific trading partners:


The problem quickly becomes obvious. The U.S. trade deficit is due almost entirely to four trading partners: China, Mexico, Japan and Germany. Of those, China is 64% of the total.

President Trump has concluded a trade deal with Mexico that benefits both countries and will lead to a reduced trade deficit as Mexico buys more U.S. soybeans.

The U.S. has good relations with Japan and much U.S.-Japanese trade is already governed by agreements acceptable to both sides. This means the U.S. trade deficit problem is confined to China and Germany (often referred to euphemistically as “Europe” or the “EU”). The atmosphere between the U.S. and the EU when it comes to trade is still uneasy, but not critical.

But the global trade war is not global at all but really a slugfest between the U.S. and China, the world’s two largest economies. In the realm of global trade, the United States is an extremely desirable customer. In fact, for most, we are their best customer.

Think the still export-based Chinese economy can afford to sell significantly less manufactured goods across borders? Think that same Chinese economy can allow for a significant devaluation of U.S. sovereign debt? That’s their book, gang.

But China has finally come to the realization that the trade war is real and here to stay. Senior Chinese policymakers have referred to the trade war as part of a larger strategy of containment of Chinese ambitions that may lead to a new Cold War. They’re right.

Trump seems to relish the idea of bullying the Chinese in public. That’s certainly his style, but it’s also a risky strategy. To quote Sun Tzu: “Do not press a desperate foe too hard.”

China doesn’t like to be chastised publicly any more than anyone else, but culturally, saving-face may be more important to the Chinese. The Chinese are all about saving face and gaining face. That means they can walk away from a trade deal even if it damages them economically. Saving face is too important. But Trump is playing for keeps and will not back down either.

Unlike in other policy arenas, Trump has enjoyed bipartisan support in Congress. The Republicans have backed Trump from a national security perspective and the Democrats have backed him from a pro-labor perspective. China sees the handwriting on the wall.

This trade war will not end soon, because it’s part of something bigger and much more difficult to resolve. This is a struggle for hegemony in the 21st century. The trade war will be good for U.S. jobs but bad for global output. The stock market is going to wake up to this reality. The currency wars and trade wars are set to get worse.

Investors should prepare.

- Source, Jim Rickards

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Jim Rickards: The Fed’s Vicious Cycle


We all know the outlines of how the Fed and other central banks responded to the financial crisis in 2008.

First the Fed cut interest rates to zero and held them there for seven years. This extravaganza of zero rates, quantitative easing (QE) and money printing worked to ease the panic and prop up the financial system.

But it did nothing to restore growth to its long-term trend or to improve personal income at a pace that usually occurs in an economic expansion.

Now, after a 10-year expansion, policymakers are considering the implications of a new recession. There’s only one problem: Central banks have not removed the supports they put in place during the last recession.

Interest rates are up to 2.5%, but that’s far lower than the 5% rates that will be needed so the Fed can cut enough to cure the next recession. The Fed has reduced its balance sheet from $4.5 trillion to $3.8 trillion, but that’s still well above the $800 billion level that existed before QE1.

In short, the Fed (and other central banks) have only partly normalized and are far from being able to cure a new recession or panic if one were to arise tomorrow. It will takes years for the Fed to get interest rates and its balance sheet back to “normal.”

Until they do, the next recession may be impossible to get out of. The odds of avoiding a recession until the Fed normalizes are low.

The problem with any kind of market manipulation (what central bankers call “policy”) is that there’s no way to end it without unintended and usually negative consequences. Once you start down the path of manipulation, it requires more and more manipulation to keep the game going. Finally it no longer becomes possible to turn back without crashing the system.

Of course, manipulation by government agencies and central banks always starts out with good intentions. They are trying to “save” the banks or “save” the market from extreme outcomes or crashes.

But this desire to save something ignores the fact that bank failures and market crashes are sometimes necessary and healthy to clear out prior excesses and dysfunctions. A crash can clean out the rot, put losses where they belong and allow the system to start over with a clean balance sheet and a strong lesson in prudence.

Instead, the central bankers ride to the rescue of corrupt or mismanaged banks. This saves the wrong people (incompetent and corrupt bank managers and investors) and hurts the everyday investor or worker who watches his portfolio implode while the incompetent bank managers get to keep their jobs and big bonuses...

- Source, Jim Rickards via the Daily Reckoning, Read More Here

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Jim Rickards: Trump Attacks!


The trade war is back on. The trade deadline came and went at midnight last night without a deal. So 25% tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods took effect at 12:01. The tariffs had previously been set at 10%.

Based on Trump’s comments, 25% tariffs may possibly be applied to an additional $300 billion of Chinese goods.

China said it would respond with unspecified but “necessary countermeasures,” although negotiations continued today in Washington.

Some analysts say China can dump its large holdings of U.S. Treasuries on world markets. That would drive up U.S. interest rates as well as mortgage rates, damaging the U.S. housing market and possibly driving the U.S. economy into a recession. Analysts call this China’s “nuclear option.”

There’s only one problem.

The nuclear option is a dud. If China did sell some of their Treasuries, they would hurt themselves because any increase in interest rates would reduce the market value of what they have left.

Also, there are plenty of buyers around if China became a seller. Those Treasuries would be bought up by U.S. banks or even the Fed itself. If China pursued an extreme version of this Treasury dumping, the U.S. president could stop it with a single phone call to the Treasury.

That’s because the U.S. controls the digital ledger that records ownership of all Treasury securities. We could simply freeze the Chinese bond accounts in place and that would be the end of that.

So don’t worry when you hear about China dumping U.S. Treasuries. China is stuck with them. It has no nuclear option in the Treasury market.

How did we get here?

Trump’s trade representatives have complained that China had backtracked on previous agreements and that China was trying to renegotiate key points at the last minute. The Chinese are not accustomed to such resistance from U.S. officials. But Trump and his team are unlike previous administrations.

China assumed it was “business as usual” as it had been during the Clinton, Bush 43 and Obama administrations. China assumed it could pay lip service to trading relations and continue down its path of unfair trade practices and theft of intellectual property. Trump has proven them wrong.

Trump was never bluffing. He means business, which China is finally learning.

There’s still time to reach a deal, however, before the tariffs actually have any practical impact. The tariffs only apply to Chinese goods that leave port after last night’s deadline. That means goods already en route to the U.S. will not be affected...


- Source, The Daily Reckoning, Read More Here

Friday, May 17, 2019

Jim Rickards: The Fed's Options Are All Bad

The Federal Reserve is caught in a difficult situation of having to raise rates without causing another recession, said best-selling author Jim Rickards.

Unlike previous monetary cycles, the Fed is trying to raise rates in anticipation of a possible recession, even while the economy is not showing signs of overheating.

"The Fed is racing to get rates up to three and a half, four percent, wherever they can, before the next recession, even though the economy is weak. Normally, you would never raise rates in an economy that's as weak as we are right now but they're doing it anyway, because they're building up some capacity to cut rates in the next recession," Rickards told Kitco News.

Contrary to popular belief, the Fed's actions are reactionary to the economy, not prescriptive, and so is behind the curve on macroeconomic trends.

"The Fed never leads the economy. This notion that the Fed does things and the economy follows is not true. The Fed follows the economy, so they'll start out with coming out of a recession with very low rates and then unemployment will go down and inflation will tick up, capacity utilization will tick up, etc. and then the Fed watches and watches," he said.

Rickards said the last administration is to blame, as the Fed should have raised rates a little bit back in 2009, and not wait until 2015.

He added that the current Fed remains "patient" but may remove that word and change their dovish stance should the economy show more signs of growth.

- Source, The Street

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Jim Rickards: Why Gold is Definitely Going to $10000


Jim Rickards sits down with Hedgeye CEO Keith McCullough to discuss why a cocktail of factors makes it more critical than ever for investors to protect their portfolios with gold.

- Source, Hedgeye TV

Friday, April 26, 2019

Jim Rickards: The Investing Secret Wall Street Won't Tell You


Best-selling author Jim Rickards has shown how an investor saving for retirement could do better holding gold than stocks, and in his new book, “Aftermath: Seven Secrets of Wealth Preservation in the Coming Chaos,” he outlines how gold is integral to his investment strategy. 

In Rickard’s study, two fictitious investors began saving with their 401k in 1999, with one buying stocks, and the other buying 100% gold; the second investor realized higher returns during this period. 

“Gold did very well, held its own and that’s something you’ll never hear from Harvard or the University of Chicago,” Rickards told Kitco News in the second part of this exclusive interview.

- Source, Kitco News

Friday, April 19, 2019

Jim Rickards Exclusive: The Aftermath Of The 2008 Crisis Is That We Never Really Escaped


The economy is vulnerable to economic “chaos” due to several monetary and policy mistakes made since the 2008 recession, said best-selling author Jim Rickards. 

His new book “Aftermath: Seven Secrets of Wealth Preservation In The Coming Chaos” details how the last economic crisis never really ended. “Technically, the recession was over in June 2009 and the U.S. economy has been expanding ever since. 

We’re coming up on 10 years of expansion, it’s one of the longest expansions in U.S. history and it’s one of the longest bull markets in stocks in U.S. history, so that’s true. 

But, it’s also been the weakest expansion in U.S. history. For 10 years average growth has been about 2.2%,” Rickards told Kitco News.

- Source, Kitco News

Friday, April 12, 2019

Jim Rickards: Prepare Now for the Aftermath



Jim Rickards and Albert Lu, the President & CEO of Sprott Money sit down to discuss the coming disaster on the horizon and how best to prepare for it? 

This is laid out clearly in Jim Rickards soon to be released book, Aftermath.

In his most prescriptive book to date, financial expert and investment advisor James Rickards shows how and why our financial markets are being artificially inflated and what smart investors can do to protect their assets.



What goes up, must come down. As any student of financial history knows, the dizzying heights of the stock market can't continue indefinitely, especially since asset prices have been artificially inflated by investor optimism around the Trump administration, ruinously low interest rates, and the infiltration of behavioral economics into our financial lives. 

The elites are prepared, but what's the average investor to do?

Sunday, April 7, 2019

James Rickards: A Recipe for Massive Government Spending

I try to avoid partisan politics in my analysis. And I never try to tell people how to vote or what they should think. I trust my readers to make their own judgments. But sometimes I can’t avoid partisan politics because they can have a major impact on markets and the economy.

Leading Democratic presidential hopefuls Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders have expressed desires to increase income taxes to 70% or even 90% on the rich, impose “wealth taxes” on their net worth and impose estate taxes that are equally onerous when they die.

The result would be that working people would pay state and local income tax on their wages, super-high income taxes on interest and dividends and annual wealth taxes and whatever was left over would be confiscated when they die.

In case you think these proposals are too extreme to become law, you might want to check out the polls. Recent polls show 74% of registered voters support a 2% annual wealth tax on those with $50 million of assets and 3% on those with $1 billion of assets.

Don’t assume you’re exempt just because your annual income is lower. Those tax thresholds are on wealth, not income, and could include stocks, bonds, business equity and intangible business equity for doctors, dentists and lawyers.

Another poll shows 59% of voters support the 70% income tax rate proposed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York). Politicians go where the votes are. Right now, the votes are in favor of much higher taxes on you.

The history of these taxes is that the rates start low and the thresholds start high, but it’s just a matter of time before rates rise, thresholds drop and everyone is handing over their wealth.

But taxes become very unpopular when too many people get clipped. And politicians are very sensitive to that. Now some Democrats are calling for a system that would allow them to spend much, much more money on social programs without appreciably raising taxes. For politicians, it’s a dream come true — if it could work.

The leading Democratic candidates for president and numerous members of Congress have come out in favor of Medicare for All, free child care, fee tuition, a guaranteed basic income even for those unwilling to work and a Green New Deal that will require all Americans to give up their cars, stop flying in planes and rebuild most commercial buildings and residences from the ground up to use renewable energy sources only.

The costs of these programs are estimated at $75–95 trillion over the next 10 years. To put those costs in perspective, $20 trillion represents the entire U.S. GDP and $22 trillion is the national debt.

It used to be easy to knock these ideas down with a simple rebuttal that the U.S. couldn’t afford it. If we raised taxes, it would kill the economy. If we printed the money, it would cause inflation. Those types of objections are still heard from mainstream economists and policymakers, including Fed Chair Jay Powell.

But now the big spenders have a simple answer to the complaint that we can’t afford it. Their answer is, “Yes, we can!” That’s because of a new school of thought called Modern Monetary Theory, or MMT.

Daily Reckoning managing editor Brian Maher previously discussed MMT here and here.

This theory says that the U.S. can spend as much as it wants and run the deficit as high as we want because the Fed can monetize any Treasury debt by printing money and holding the debt on its balance sheet until maturity, at which time it can be rolled over with new debt.

What’s the problem?

Bernanke printed $4 trillion from 2008–2014 to bail out the banks and help Wall Street keep their big bonuses. There was no inflation. So why not print $10 trillion or more to try out these new programs?

There are serious problems with MMT (not the ones Jay Powell and mainstream voices point to). But very few analysts can really see the flaws. I’ll be in an MMT debate with a leading proponent in a few weeks, where I will point out what I believe to be the biggest flaws with MMT. To my knowledge, no one else has raised them.

For now, get used to the rise of MMT. It will be a central feature of the 2020 election campaign. The disastrous consequences are a little further down the road.


- Source, Jim Rickards via the Daily Reckoning

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

The Real Problem With Modern Monetary Theory

MMT supporters will point to 2008 and say, “Just look at QE. In 2008, the Federal Reserve Balance sheet was $800 billion. But as a result of QE1, QE2, and QE3, that number went to $4.5 trillion. And the world didn’t end. To the contrary, the stock market went on a huge bull run.We did not have an economic crash. And again, inflation was muted.”

Fed chairman Jay Powell has criticized MMT, for example. But its advocates say Powell and other Fed officials hoist themselves on their own petard. That’s because they are the ones who actually proved that MMT works. They point to the fact that the Fed printed close to $4 trillion and nothing bad happened. So it should go ahead and print another $4 trillion.

This is one of the great ironies of the debate. The Fed criticizes MMT, but it was its very own money creation after 2008 that MMT advocates point to as proof that it works.

Their only quibble is that the benefit of all that money creation went to rich investors, the major banks and corporations. The rich simply got richer. MMT advocates say it will simply redirect the money towards the poor, students, everyday Americans, people who need healthcare and childcare. It would basically be QE for the people, instead of the rich.

And it will go into the real economy, where it will boost productivity and finally give us significant growth.

When I first encountered these arguments, I knew they weren’t right. Both my gut feeling and my more rigorous approach to my own theory of money told me MMT was wrong. But I must admit, their arguments were more difficult to answer than I expected. I had a tough time uncovering the logical flaws.

Their points are internally consistent, and they did have a point. After all, the Fed did create all that money and it didn’t produce a calamity. Who’s to say they couldn’t do a lot more of it?

In other words, the Keynesian argument does not hold water when you look at the facts or certainly recent economic history.

Without doing any more serious thinking about it, I probably would have lost a debate with any leading MMT proponent who’s done a lot of work on it, despite “knowing” they were wrong. I couldn’t easily refute their basic arguments.

You can never win a debate if you don’t understand your opponent’s position. Over the past several years I got dragged into endless gold versus bitcoin debates, and I always thought they were silly because gold is gold, and bitcoin is bitcoin. Contrasting them never made sense to me, but that’s what everybody wanted to hear, so I participated in a lot of gold versus bitcoin debates.

I won every debate according to the judges or the audience, but the point being I had to understand bitcoin in order to see its shortcomings. I wasn’t about to debate somebody about bitcoin and get blindsided or embarrassed because I didn’t understand their arguments. I had to become a complete expert on bitcoin to win these debates.

The same applies to MMT. If you’re going to debate somebody on MMT, you’d better know it better than they do or you’re going to lose that debate. It just so happens that I’ll be debating a leading MMT proponent on April 3, in just a few weeks. So I had to immerse myself in it to learn it inside and out.

I knew I had to go beyond the standard arguments that we can’t afford it, that it would explode the deficit, etc. I’m happy to say that I worked out an answer refuting MMT, but it wasn’t easy. It took a lot of hard thinking. Today I’m giving you a preview of what I’ll argue at the upcoming debate.

Here’s what it comes down to…

The real problem with MMT can be traced to its very definition of money. The MMT advocates say they know what money is. Money derives its value from the fact that you need it to pay your taxes. In the U.S. case, money is dollars.

But their definition of money is flawed. In other words, the whole theory is built on quicksand. And this is the point that everyone is missing, including the usual critics. No one else has raised it.

The basis of money, the definition of money, has nothing to do with paying taxes. I can think of a hundred ways to hold money and store wealth where you don’t owe any taxes. Here’s one example…

If you buy a share of stock and stick it in your portfolio for 10 years without selling it, how much do you owe in taxes? Zero. You don’t owe any taxes until you sell it. This is one of the reasons why Warren Buffet is so rich, by the way. He pays very little taxes...


- Source, Jim Rickards via the Daily Reckoning, read more here

Friday, March 29, 2019

Jim Rickards: Exposing the Myth of MMT

Yesterday I discussed modern monetary theory (MMT) and how it’s become very popular in Democratic circles.

That’s because it allows for much greater government spending without having to raise everyone’s taxes. And everyday citizens could get behind it because it promises to fund lots of programs without seeing their taxes raised.

What’s not to like?

If MMT were just a fringe idea with a few fringe followers, I wouldn’t waste my time or your time on it. But it’s coming your way, so it is important to understand it.

If you missed yesterday’s reckoning, go here for a refresher.

The people who are thinking about MMT, who understand it at least in some superficial way, are the people who are driving the policy debate or running for president.

Many mainstream economists and money managers have attacked MMT, including Fed Chairman Jay Powell, Larry Summers, Paul Krugman, Kenneth Rogoff, Larry Fink, Jeff Gundlach, Jamie Dimon and Ray Dalio.

But much of their criticism is unjustified (see below for more). I’m an opponent of MMT — but for different reasons. As far as I know, I’m the only analyst who’s raised the objections I list below.

Today, I’m going to show you what I believe to be the real problem with MMT.

Again, it’s easy to see why so many politicians on the Democratic side would be such big supporters of MMT.

Some or all of them have come out in support of the following programs:

Free college tuition, student loan forgiveness, Medicare for all, free child care, universal basic income (UBI) and a Green New Deal. Some support them all.

Needless to say, that’s going to cost a lot of money. Just consider the Green New Deal alone.

I’m not going to go through every detail of it. But in essence it would spend trillions of dollars, for example, building high-speed rail. The idea is to cut down dramatically on air travel. It would also convert nearly every single structure in the country to solar power.

I wrote this article from a house that’s running on solar power. But it’s very expensive to put the system in. I have a big system, but it barely covers my house. And every time I look at it, I say, “Oh, we’re going to do this for every house in the country? Good luck with that.”

Some analysts have estimated that the Green New Deal would cost around $97 trillion. That’s trillion, not billion — or nearly five times annual U.S. GDP.

When critics hear that a Green New Deal could potentially cost something like $97 trillion, or proposals for Medicare for all, free tuition, free child care or guaranteed basic income, they say, “That all sounds nice, but we just can’t afford it.”

That’s their main argument — that no matter how desirable these programs might be in theory, we just can’t afford them. Most criticism of MMT falls along those lines.

Even the Keynesians like those I mentioned earlier, who generally favor large amounts of government spending to stimulate the economy, have come out against MMT.

Besides that claim that we can’t afford it, even the Keynesians say MMT would be highly inflationary. If you printed that much money and start handing it out to people, demand would outstrip the output capacity of the economy and you’d get high inflation.

But the MMT advocates have an answer to these objections. They’re not the least bit intimidated by critics who say we can’t afford it.

They say, “Yes, we can, and Modern Monetary Theory proves it. Just print the money and monetize the debt. Japanese debt is 2.5 times the United States’ debt, and China’s is higher than ours.”

They haven’t collapsed, so we can take on far more debt than we have today. Furthermore, QE did not create much inflation. In fact, the Fed would like to see more inflation than it has. It still can’t produce a sustained 2% inflation rate after all these years.

You might think the argument is ridiculous. After all, do we really want to become Japan?

But in important ways, the MMT crowd has the upper hand in the debate.


- Source, Jim Rickards via the Daily Reckoning

Monday, March 25, 2019

Jim Rickards: Fed Desperate for Inflation, Bullish for Gold


Four time best-selling author Jim Rickards says “The time to buy gold is when sentiment is low and people hate it. So, the bull market is intact.” 

We are in the fourth year. Bull markets start off slow because of all the bad sentiment, but then they gather momentum. 

So, it’s still not too late to jump on this train, and my expectation is this will pick up. The signal the gold market is getting right now is the Fed is throwing in the towel.

They made some headway, but it came at a high cost because they slowed the economy and they can’t continue.

Now, they are going to be desperate for inflation, and that is very bullish for gold.”

- Source, USA Watchdog

Saturday, March 9, 2019

The Future of International Monetary System


James Rickards is the editor of Strategic Intelligence, a financial newsletter, and director of the James Rickards Project, an inquiry into the complex dynamics of geopolitics and global capital. 

He is a portfolio manager, lawyer, and economist, and has held senior positions at Citibank, Long-Term Capital Management, and Caxton Associates. 

In 1998, he was the principal negotiator of the rescue of LTCM, sponsored by the Federal Reserve. His clients include institutional investors and government directorates.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

James Rickards: Multiple Risks Are Converging at Once


Since the end of QE and the “taper” in October 2014, the Fed has been trying to “normalize” their balance sheet and interest rates. The balance sheet needed to be reduced from $4.5 trillion to about $2.5 trillion through “quantitative tightening” or QT, which is tantamount to burning money.

Interest rates needed to be raised to around 4% in stages of 0.25%. The purpose of QT and rate hikes was so that the Fed would have the capacity to lower rates and increase the balance sheet (“QE4”) again to fight a new recession.

The rate hikes started in December 2015 (the “liftoff”) and the balance sheet reductions started in October 2017. Both started slowly but have gained momentum. Rates are now up to 2.5% and the balance sheet is just below $4 trillion.

The Fed’s problem was that actual rate hikes were about 1% per year and the balance sheet reduction at $600 billion per year had the effect of another 1% of rate hikes. Would the Fed be able to achieve its goals of 4% rates and a $2.5 trillion balance sheet without causing the recession they were preparing to fight?

It turns out the answer is no. In late December, Fed chair Powell announced the Fed would be “patient” on rate hikes. That means no more rate hikes until further notice. Now, the Fed has also apparently thrown in the towel on balance sheet normalization.

When QT began, Janet Yellen said it would “run on background” and would not be an instrument of policy. Ooops. Now the Fed is ending it so it clearly is an instrument of policy.

Right now, my models are saying that Powell’s verbal ease is too little too late. Damage to U.S. growth prospects has already been done by the Fed’s tightening since December 2015 and the Fed’s QT policy that started in October 2017.

The 2009–2018 recovery has already been the weakest recovery in U.S. history despite a few good quarters here and there. And there’s little reason to expect it to pick up from here. In fact, growth is slowing.

GDP expanded 3.4% in the third quarter of 2018, which looks good on paper. But the trend is pointing down. Q2 growth was 4.2%. This trend tends to confirm the view that 2018 growth was a “Trump bump” from the tax cuts that will not be repeated. And Q4 GDP, which has been delayed due to the government shutdown, will probably be lower than Q3.

Some of the major banks have downgraded their Q4 GDP forecasts after yesterday’s poor retail sales report.

Goldman Sachs, for example, previously projected fourth-quarter GDP to expand at 2.5%. Now it’s down to 2.0%. Its projections for the rest of the year are no better. JPMorgan also revised down its previous Q4 forecast from a previous 2.6% to 2.0%. And Barclays lowered its Q4 forecast from 2.8% to 2.1%.

Even the Atlanta branch of the Federal Reserve, which is known for perpetually overestimating GDP, has cut its Q4 forecast by almost half. A little over a week ago its reading was 2.7%. But after yesterday’s retail sales report, its latest forecast comes it at just 1.5%.

We also have other signs the economy is slowing down. A report this week revealed a record seven million Americans are now at least 90 days behind in their car loan payments. There is also a student loan crisis unfolding.

Total student loans today at $1.6 trillion are larger than the amount of junk mortgages in late 2007 of about $1.0 trillion. Default rates on student loans are already higher than mortgage default rates in 2007. This time the loan losses are falling not on the banks and hedge funds but on the Treasury itself because of government guarantees.

Not only are student loan defaults soaring, but household debt has hit another all-time high. Student loans and household debt are just the tip of the debt iceberg that also includes junk bonds corporate debt and even sovereign debt, all at or near record highs around the world.

But it’s not just the U.S.

China and Europe are both slowing at the same time. China’s problems are well-known. And while the causes may vary, growth in all of the major economies in the EU and the U.K. is either slowing or has already turned negative. Markets see the global slowdown (despite Fed ease) and are preparing for a recession at best and a possible market crash at worst.

Still, why has growth slowed down at all?

The answer has to do with debt, Fed policy, political developments, as well as currency wars and trade wars. Specifically, the U.S. and China, the world’s two largest economies, are discovering the limits of debt-fueled growth.

According to the Institute of International Finance (IIF), it required a record $8 trillion of freshly created debt to create just $1.3 trillion of global GDP. The trend is clear. The massive debts intended to achieve growth are piling on every day. Meanwhile, many of the debts taken on since 2009 are still on the books.

The U.S. debt-to-GDP ratio is now 106%, the highest since the end of the Second World War. The Chinese debt-to-GDP ratio is a more reasonable 48%, but that figure is misleading because it does not include the debts and guarantees of provinces, state-owned enterprises, banks, wealth management products and numerous other entities that the government in Beijing is directly or indirectly obligated to support.

When that additional debt is taken into account, the real debt-to-GDP ratio is over 250%, about the same as Japan’s.

Debt-to-GDP ratios below 60% are considered sustainable; ratios between 60% and 90% are considered unsustainable and need to be reversed; and ratios in excess of 90% are in the red zone and will produce negative growth along with default through nonpayment, inflation or other forms of debt repudiation.

The world’s three largest economies — the U.S., China and Japan — are all now deep in the red zone.

What is striking is the speed with which synchronized global growth has turned to synchronized slowing. Indications are that this slowing is far from over. While growth can create a positive feedback loop, slowing can do the same.

Warnings of economic collapse are no longer confined to the fringes of economic analysis but are now coming from major financial institutions and prominent economists, academics and wealth managers. Leading financial elites have been warning of coming collapses and dangers.

These warnings range from the IMF’s Christine Lagarde, Bridgewater’s Ray Dalio, the Bank for International Settlements (known as the “central banker’s central bank”), Paul Tudor Jones and many other highly regarded sources.

Coming back to the U.S., the Fed may have avoided a recession for now, but they have left themselves far short of what they’ll need to fight the next recession when it comes. That could lead to another lost decade. The U.S. looks more like Japan with each passing day.

Investors can profit from this with a combination of long-volatility strategies, safe-haven assets, gold and cash.

- Source, James Rickards via the Daily Reckoning

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Jim Rickards: The Crumbling Chinese Market

A Chinese financial and economic crisis has been in the forecasts of many analysts for years, including my own. So far, it has not happened. Does this mean China has solved the problem of how to avoid a crisis? Or is the crisis just a matter of time, set to happen sooner than later?

My view is that a crisis in China is inevitable based on China’s growth model, the international financial climate and excessive debt. Some of the world’s most prominent economists agree. A countdown to crisis has begun.


As I explained above, China has hit a wall that development economists refer to as the “middle income trap.” Again, this happens to developing economies when they have exhausted the easy growth potential moving from low income to middle income and then face the far more difficult task of moving from middle income to high income.

The move to high-income status requires far more than simple assembly-style jobs staffed by rural dwellers moving to the cities. It requires the creation and adoption of high-value-added products enabled by high technology.

China has not shown much capacity for developing high technology on its own, but it has been quite effective at stealing such technology from trading partners and applying it through its own system of state-owned enterprises and “national champions” such as Huawei in the telecommunications sector.

Unfortunately for China, this growth by theft has run its course. The U.S. and its allies, such as Canada and the EU, are taking strict steps to limit further theft and are holding China to account for its theft so far by imposing punitive tariffs and banning Chinese companies from participation in critical technology rollouts such as 5G mobile phones.

At the same time, China is facing the consequences of excessive debt. Economies can grow through consumption, investment, government spending and net exports. The “Chinese miracle” has been mostly a matter of investment and net exports, with minimal spending by consumers.

The investment component was thinly disguised government spending — many of the companies conducting investment in large infrastructure projects were backed directly or indirectly by the government through the banks.

This investment was debt-financed. China is so heavily indebted that it is now at the point where more debt does not produce growth. Adding additional debt today slows the economy and calls into question China’s ability to service its existing debt.

China’s other lifelines were net exports and large current account surpluses. These were driven by cheap labor, government subsidies and a manipulated currency. These drivers of growth are also disappearing due to demographics that reduce China’s labor force.

China is facing competition by even cheaper labor from Vietnam and Indonesia. Trade surpluses are also being hurt by the trade wars and tariffs imposed by the U.S.

Meanwhile, the debt overhang is growing worse. China’s creditworthiness is now being called into question by international banks and direct foreign investors.

The single most important factor right now is the continuation and expansion of the U.S.-China trade war. When the trade war began in January 2018, the market expectation was that both sides were posturing and that a resolution would be reached quickly.

I took the opposite view. Trump waited a full year from his inauguration before starting the trade war. Trump has given China every opportunity to come to the table and work out a deal acceptable to both sides.

China assumed it was “business as usual” as it had been during the Clinton, Bush 43 and Obama administrations. China assumed it could pay lip service to trading relations and continue down its path of unfair trade practices and theft of intellectual property.

By January 2018, Trump decided he had been patient enough and it was time to show China we were serious about the trade deficit and China’s digital piracy. Since the trade war began, the U.S. has suffered only minor impacts, while the impact on China has been overwhelming.

The deteriorating situation in China is summarized nicely in this excerpt from an article dated Feb. 5, 2019, and titled “The Coming China Shock,” by economists Arvind Subramanian and Josh Felman:

"Back in September, we saw some discontinuity in China’s economic performance as inevitable. Even if the country was not heading for a full-blown crisis, we believed it would almost certainly experience some combination of rapidly decelerating growth and a sharply depreciating exchange rate. That prognosis has since become even more likely. With global economic growth and exports declining, China’s economy is on track to slow further relative to the 6.4% growth recorded in the fourth quarter of 2018. The double-digit average achieved from the 1980s until recently has never seemed more distant."

The impact described by Subramanian and Felman is illustrated in the chart below. This chart shows the price and volume of trading in the iShares China Large-Cap ETF (NYSE:FXI).

FXI peaked at $54.00 per share on Jan. 26, 2018, almost exactly on the day the trade wars began. The index has trended steadily downward from there to the current level of about $42.50 per share, a 21% decline with volatility along the way.


This decline is only a partial reflection of the trade war impact. Wall Street has consistently underestimated the hard economic toll the trade war has taken on China. Wall Street formed the view that the trade war would be short and of minimal impact. Instead it has stretched for 14 months with no end in sight.

The tariffs imposed by the U.S. on China so far have dramatically slowed the Chinese economy. Yet those tariffs are minor compared with what’s in store.

March 1, 2019, is the deadline for the current “truce” in the trade war intended to facilitate negotiations. U.S. demands — especially in the area of verifiable limitations on the theft of U.S. intellectual property — are impossible for China to meet because it depends on such theft to advance its own economic ambitions.

It is highly unlikely that the outstanding issues will be resolved by March 1. Some minor issues may be resolved and some “deal” announced. A deal may include a reduction in the U.S.-China trade deficit through larger purchases of U.S. soybeans by China.

But the big issues including limits on U.S. investment in China, forced technology transfers to China and theft of intellectual property will not be resolved.

The best case is that the deadline will be extended and the trade talks will continue. The worst case is that the truce will fall apart and the U.S. will impose massive tariff increases on Chinese exports to the U.S. as planned. Either way, China’s export-driven economy will continue to suffer.

Given these economic, trade war and political head winds, weakness in China is only getting worse.

And China’s leadership can only hope the damage can be limited before the people begin to question its legitimacy.

- Source, James Rickards via the Daily Reckoning

Friday, February 15, 2019

Markets Hang Between Order and Chaos


Today we bear dramatic news:

Markets have entered a “phase transition zone”… the “magic space between order and chaos.”

This we have on the authority of the brains at Fasanara Capital.

But what will emerge on the other side — order or chaos?

Today our mood is heavy, our brow creased with thought… as we hunt the answer.

We begin with a hypothesis:

Since the financial crisis, central banks have acted as an overprotective parent… or an overzealous referee of a prize fight.

They have kept the bears separated from the bulls, chained in a neutral corner where they could do no harm.

That is, they have throttled off the violent combats, the savage brawls of the market.

“This stock is worth x,” shout the bulls in a normal market. “No — it is only worth y,” roar the protesting bears.

They are soon upon each other’s throats.

Into a cloud of dust they vanish, arms, legs, elbows, flying — and may the better man win.

Ultimately a winner emerges with the proper price.

The professional men call it price discovery.

Price discovery represents, to mix the figure a bit, the democracy of the marketplace.

Each investor has a vote. His vote may contrast bitterly with the other fellow’s.

But the better ideas will generally win the election… and the worse will lose.

The world is left with better mousetraps, superior companies, happier customers.

An Amazon cleans out a Sears. An Apple pummels a Compaq into nonexistence. A Google shows an AOL its dust.

And so on. And so on.

But after the financial crisis, the central banks rolled in with their tanks… and declared martial law.

The democracy of the marketplace went under the treads.

Is this company superior to that one? Does it deserve its stock price?

No one could say.

QE and zero interest rates put blindfolds over everyone’s eyes… and tape over their mouths.

“Passive” investing waged additional war on price discovery.

“Passively” managed funds make no effort to pinpoint winners. They track an overall index or asset category — not the individual components.

Passive investing has rendered actively picking stocks a fool’s errand.

Some 86% of all actively managed stock funds have underperformed their index during the last 10 years.

Explains Larry Swedroe, director of research at Buckingham Strategic Wealth:

“While it is possible to win that game, the odds of doing so are so poor that it’s simply not a prudent choice to play.”

Despite the gaudy averages, only a handful of stocks accounted for most of the market’s gains these past few years.

Through last August, for example, the FAANG stocks — Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, Alphabet (Google’s parent company) — accounted for half of the S&P’s gains.

But it was the false stability of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Hang the leader and the place goes to pieces.

In October the FAANGs began going to pieces. A period of vast instability resulted.

And the stock market came within an inch of a bear market by year’s end.

Since investors were all going blind, who could take up the load?

Markets began approaching Fasanara’s “phase transition zone.”

In a word… central banks have destroyed the market’s “resilience.”

Fasanara:

The market has lost its key function of price discovery, its ability to learn and evolve and its inherent buffers and redundancy mechanisms. In a word, the market has lost its “resilience”…

Our inability as market participants to properly frame market fragility and the inherent vulnerability of the financial system makes a market crash more likely, as it helps systemic risk go unattended and build further up.


It is this systemic risk and loss of resilience that heightens the likelihood of a crash:

Conventional market and economic indicators (e.g., breaks of multiyear equity and home price trendlines, freezing credit markets, softening global [manufacturing]) have all but confirmed what nontraditional measures of system-level fragility signaled all along: that a market crash is incubating, and the cliff is near.

But how close is the cliff?

Complex systems like markets, argues Fasanara (and Jim Rickards), are especially vulnerable in this “phase transition zone.”

The butterfly flaps its wings in Brazil and normally that is that.

But in highly unstable conditions, the butterfly flaps its wings and whips up a hurricane off Florida.

Small inputs, that is, have outsized effects under instability… shifting “order” into “chaos.”

What are some of the flapping butterflies that could conjure the hurricane?

Among the eight Fasanara identifies:

Trade war. China. Oil. Trump and the Mueller investigation.

Any one of these — in theory — could tip markets over the chaotic border.

“Given our overall view for market system instability,” warns Fasanara, “it becomes crucial to monitor upcoming catalyst events, as any of them may be able to accelerate the large adjustment we anticipate.”

Meantime, we remain, suspended in the “magic space between order and chaos.”


Monday, February 11, 2019

James Rickards: A Trained Monkey Could Do Better


The first time I appeared on live financial television was August 15, 2007. It was a guest appearance on CNBC’s Squawk Box program at the early stages of the 2007-2008 financial crisis.

Of course, none of us knew at that time exactly how and when things would play out, but it was clear to me that a meltdown was coming; the same meltdown I had been warning the government and academics about since 2003.

I’ve done 1,000 live TV interviews since then, but that first one remains memorable. Carl Quintanilla conducted the interview with some participation from Becky Quick, both of whom could not have been more welcoming.

They and the studio crew made me feel right at home even though it was my first time in studio and my first time meeting them. Joe Kernan remained off-camera during my interview with his back turned reading the New York Post sports page, but that’s Joe. We had plenty of interaction in my many interviews over the years that followed.

When I was done, I was curious about how many guests CNBC interviewed over the course of a day. Being on live TV made me feel a bit special, but I wanted to know how special it was to be a guest. The answer was deflating and brought me right down to earth.

CNBC has about 120 guests on in a single day, day after day, year after year. Many of those guests are repeat performers, just as I became a repeat guest on CNBC during the course of the crisis. But, I was just one face in the midst of a thundering herd.

What were all of those guests doing with all of that airtime? Well, for the most part they were forecasting. They predicted stock prices, interest rates, economic growth, unemployment, commodity prices, exchange rates, you name it.

Financial TV is one big prediction engine and the audience seems to have an insatiable appetite for it. That’s natural. Humans and markets dislike uncertainty, and anyone who can shed some light on the future is bound to find an audience.

Which begs a question: How accurate are those predictions?

No one expects perfection or anything close to it. A forecaster who turns out to be accurate 70% of the time is way ahead of the crowd. In fact, if you can be accurate just 55% of the time, you’re in a position to make money since you’ll be right more than you’re wrong. If you size your bets properly and cut losses, a 55% batting average will produce above average returns.

Even monkeys can join in the game. If you’re forecasting random binary outcomes (stocks up or down, rates high or low, etc.), a trained monkey will have a 50% batting average. The reason is that the monkey knows nothing and just points to a random result.

Random pointing with random outcomes over a sustained period will be “right” half the time and “wrong” half the time, for a 50% forecasting record. You won’t make any money with that, but you won’t lose any either. It’s a push.

So, if 70% accuracy is uncanny, 55% accuracy is OK, and 50% accuracy is achieved by trained monkeys, how do actual professional forecasters do? The answer is less than 50%.

In short, professional forecasters are worse than trained monkeys at predicting markets.

Need proof? Every year, the Federal Reserve forecasts economic growth on a one-year forward basis. And it’s been wrong every year for the better part of a decade. When I say “wrong” I mean by orders of magnitude.

If the Fed forecast 3.5% growth and actual growth was 3.3%, I would consider that to be awesome.

But, the Fed would forecast 3.5% growth and it would come in at 2.2%. That’s not even close considering that growth is confined to plus or minus 4% in the vast majority of years.

If you have defective and obsolete models, you will produce incorrect analysis and bad policy every time. There’s no better example of this than the Federal Reserve.

The Fed uses equilibrium models to understand an economy that is not an equilibrium system; it’s a complex dynamic system. The Fed uses the Phillips curve to understand the relationship between unemployment and inflation when 50 years of data say there is no fixed relationship.

The Fed uses what’s called value-at-risk modeling based on normally distributed events when the evidence is clear that the degree distribution of risk events is a power curve, not a normal or bell curve.

As a result of these defective models, the Fed printed $3.5 trillion of new money beginning in 2008 to “stimulate” the economy only to produce the weakest recovery in history. Now, the cycle of monetary tightening has been ongoing in various forms for nearly six years.

Let’s not be too hard on the Fed. The IMF forecasts were just as bad. And the “the wisdom of crowds” can also be dramatically wrong.

It does not have very high predictive value. It’s just as faulty as the professional forecasts from the Fed and IMF.

There are reasons for this. The wisdom of crowds is a highly misunderstood concept. It works well when the problem is simple and the answer is static, but unknown.

The classic case is guessing how many jellybeans are in a large jar. In that situation, the average of 1,000 guesses actually will be better than a single “expert” opinion. That works because the number of jellybeans never changes. There’s nothing dynamic about the problem.

But, when the answer is truly unknown and the problem is complex and dynamic such as capital markets forecasting, then the wisdom of crowds is subject to all of the same biases, herding, risk aversion, and other human quirks known through behavioral psychology.

This is important because when academics say “you can’t beat the market,” my answer is the market indicators are usually wrong. When talking heads say, “you can’t beat the wisdom of crowds,” I just smile and explain what the wisdom of crowds actually does and does not mean.

By the way, this is one reason why markets missed Brexit and Trump. The professional forecasters simply misinterpreted what polls and betting odds were actually saying.

None of this means that polls, betting odds, and futures contracts have no value. They do. But, the value lies in understanding what they’re actually indicating and not resting on a naive and superficial understanding of the wisdom of crowds.

Does this mean that forecasting is impossible or that the experts are uninformed? Not at all. Highly accurate forecasting is possible.

The problem with the “experts” is not that they’re dopes (they’re not), or they’re not trying hard (they are). The problem is that they use the wrong models. The smartest person in the world working as hard as possible will always be wrong if you use the wrong model.

That why the IMF, Fed, and the wisdom of crowds bat below .500. They’re using the wrong models.

But here at Project Prophesy, I can confidently say I’ve got the right models, which I developed for the CIA working in collaboration with top applied mathematicians and physicists at places like the Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Applied Physics Laboratory.

It’s these models that let me accurately forecast events like Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, while all the mainstream analysts laughed in my face. It’s not that I’m any smarter than many of these people. It’s just that I use superior models that work in the real world, not in never-never land..

These models do not assume equilibrium systems and normally distributed risk like mainstream models. My models are based on complexity theory, Bayesian statistics, behavioral psychology and history. They produce much more accurate results than all of the alternatives.

This is the methodology behind my forecasts, which allows my readers access to actionable market recommendations they won’t find elsewhere.

- Source, James Rickards

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Jim Rickards: Jay Powell's Gift to Markets

Fed Chair Jay Powell did not deliver any early Christmas presents to the markets last month, but he did pop the cork on a bottle of Champagne as a belated New Year’s gift on Friday, Jan. 4.

With just a few words, Powell sent the most powerful signal from the Fed since March 2015. Investors who understand and properly interpret that signal stand to avoid losses and reap huge gains in the weeks ahead.

First, let’s focus on Powell’s comments. Then we’ll explain what they actually meant.

The Fed has taken a March rate hike off the table until further notice. At a forum in Atlanta two Fridays ago, Powell joined former Fed chairs Yellen and Bernanke to discuss monetary policy.

In the course of his remarks, Powell used the word “patient” to describe the Fed’s approach to the next interest rate hike. When Powell did this, he was reading from a script of prepared remarks in what was otherwise billed as a “roundtable discussion.” This is a sign that Powell was being extremely careful to get his words exactly right.


Fed Chairman Jay Powell (left) joined former Fed chairs Janet Yellen and Ben Bernanke at a roundtable in Atlanta recently. Powell revived the word “patient,” which was last used by the Fed in December 2014. It’s a powerful signal of no rate hikes until further notice.

When Powell said the Fed would be “patient” in reference to the next rate hike, this was not just happy talk. The word “patient” is Fed code for “No rate hikes until we give you a clear signal.” This interpretation is backed up by the Fed’s past use of verbal cues to signal ease or tightening in lieu of actual rate hikes or cuts.

The word “patient” has a long history in the Fed’s vocabulary. Prior to March 2015, the Fed consistently used the word “patient” in their FOMC statements. This was a signal that there would not be a rate hike at the next FOMC meeting. Investors could do carry trades safely.

As long as the word “patient” was in the Fed’s statements, investors knew that there would be no rate hike without warning. It was like an “all clear” signal for leveraged carry trades and risk-on investments. Only when the word “patient” was removed was the Fed signaling that rate hikes were back on the table. In that event, investors were being given fair warning to unwind carry trades and move to risk-off positions.

In March 2015, Yellen removed the word “patient” from the statement. That was a signal that a rate hike could happen at any time and the market was on notice. If you had a carry trade on and were relying on no rate hike, then shame on you.

In fact, the first rate hike (the “liftoff”) did not happen until December 2015, but the market was on notice through the June and September 2015 FOMC meetings that it could happen. (The liftoff was originally planned for September 2015, but was postponed because of the U.S. market crash in August 2015. This crash was due to the shock 3% China currency devaluation on Aug. 10; U.S. stocks fell 11% in four weeks.)

Now, for the first time since 2015, the word “patient” is back in the Fed’s statements. This means no future Fed rate hikes without fair warning. This could change again based on new data and new statements, but a change is unlikely before March at the earliest. For now, the Fed is rescuing markets with a risk-on signal. That’s why the market rallied that Friday and has reversed December’s downward trend.

But we’re not out of the woods. Just because the Fed signaled they will not raise rates in March does not mean that all is well with markets. The U.S. stock market had already anticipated the Fed would not raise rates in March. The statement by Powell confirms that, but this verbal ease is already priced in. As usual, the markets will want some ice cream to go with the big piece of cake they just got from Powell.

On the one hand, if we’re at or near the start of a bear market it will take more than a Fed pause to offset that. On the other hand, there’s no reason for markets to crash based on the U.S. economy alone since the Fed may make more candy available by continuing to use the word “patient” in March. So we’re in wait-and-see mode.

Meanwhile, there’s an even bigger threat on the horizon — China. Unobserved by many analysts, the Chinese are reducing their money supply even faster than the Fed.

The Fed’s signal on rates says nothing about Fed reductions in the money supply under the quantitative tightening (QT) program. The U.S. money supply reductions are going ahead at $600 billion per year.

China is burning money even faster to prop up the yuan in the midst of a trade war with Trump. What does it mean when the world’s two largest economies, comprising 40% of global GDP, both hit the brakes on money supply?

Nothing good. Milton Friedman demonstrated that monetary policy operates with a lag of 12–18 months. These U.S. and Chinese monetary tightening policies started just over a year ago. The initial impact of what has already been done by the central banks is just being felt now.

This means that the U.S.-China tightening will continue to be felt over the next year regardless of what the Fed does in March. Stopping rate hikes now is like hitting the car brakes when you’re driving on a frozen lake. You’re going to slide a long time before the car comes to a halt. Let’s hope you don’t hit a soft spot before then or you’ll end up underwater.

Of course, the China and U.S. domestic growth and monetary policy narratives converge in the trade war discussions going on now. The continuing trade war is another head wind to growth. No doubt Powell had this scenario in mind when he opted to use the word “patient.”

The risk to investors is that markets are on a sugar high because of Powell’s recent comments. But the sugar will soon wear off and the Fed won’t provide more until March at the earliest. By then, the reality of slower growth in China and the U.S. and a lack of substantive progress in the trade wars will give the market a dose of reality like getting hit with a cold bucket of water in the face.

Evidence for this slowing comes from the latest Atlanta Fed update to their fourth-quarter GDP forecast, which now projects 2.6% growth after being as high as 3% earlier in the quarter.

What are the implications for investors of belated Fed ease combined with signs of weaker growth in China and the U.S.?

Right now, my models are saying that Powell’s verbal ease is too little too late. Damage to U.S. growth prospects has already been done by the Fed’s tightening since December 2016 and the Fed’s QT policy that started in October 2017.

The U.S., China and Europe are all slowing at the same time. Markets see this (despite Fed ease) and are preparing for a recession at best and a possible market crash at worst.

One potential catalyst is the start of the Chinese New Year celebration of the Year of the Pig. Kicking off with the Little New Year on Jan. 28, this celebration actually stretches over two weeks and is accompanied by reduced productivity and liquidity in Chinese markets. That’s a recipe for volatility.

We also have a Fed FOMC meeting on Jan. 30. No rate hike is expected, obviously, but there will be a written statement issued. Markets will be looking for the word “patient” in print, and if they don’t find it, there could be a violent reversal in the sugar high that started two Fridays ago.

Investors should prepare now before markets reprice.

- Source, Jim Rickards via the Daily Reckoning

Monday, February 4, 2019

James Rickards: Here’s Where the Next Crisis Starts


The case for a pending financial collapse is well grounded. Financial crises occur on a regular basis including 1987, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2007-08. That averages out to about once every five years for the past thirty years. There has not been a financial crisis for ten years so the world is overdue. It’s also the case that each crisis is bigger than the one before and requires more intervention by the central banks.

The reason has to do with the system scale. In complex dynamic systems such as capital markets, risk is an exponential function of system scale. Increasing market scale correlates with exponentially larger market collapses.

This means a market panic far larger than the Panic of 2008.

Today, systemic risk is more dangerous than ever because the entire system is larger than before. Due to central bank intervention, total global debt has increased by about $150 trillion over the past 15 years. Too-big-to-fail banks are bigger than ever, have a larger percentage of the total assets of the banking system and have much larger derivatives books.

Each credit and liquidity crisis starts out differently and ends up the same. Each crisis begins with distress in a particular overborrowed sector and then spreads from sector to sector until the whole world is screaming, “I want my money back!”

First, one asset class has a surprise drop. The leveraged investors sell the sinking asset, but soon the asset is unwanted by anyone. Margin calls roll in. Investors then sell good assets to raise cash to meet the margin calls. This spreads the panic to banks and dealers who were not originally involved with the weak asset.

Soon the contagion spreads to all banks and assets, as everyone wants their money back all at once. Banks begin to fail, panic spreads and finally central banks step in to separate winners and losers and re-liquefy the system for the benefit of the winners.

Typically, small investors (and some bankrupt banks) get hurt the worst while the big banks get bailed out and live to fight another day.

That much panics have in common. What varies in financial panics is not how they end but how they begin. The 1987 crash started with computerized trading. The 1994 panic began in Mexico. The 1997–98 panic started in Asian emerging markets but soon spread to Russia and the big banks. The 2000 crash began with dot-coms. The 2008 panic was triggered by defaults in subprime mortgages.

The problem is that regulators are like generals fighting the last war. In 2008, the global financial crisis started in the U.S. mortgage market and spread quickly to the overleveraged banking sector.

Since then, mortgage lending standards have been tightened considerably and bank capital requirements have been raised steeply. Banks and mortgage lenders may be safer today, but the system is not. Risk has simply shifted.

What will trigger the next panic?

Prominent economist Carmen Reinhart says the place to watch is U.S. high-yield debt, aka “junk bonds.”

I’ve also raised the same argument. We’re facing a devastating wave of junk bond defaults. The next financial collapse will quite possibly come from junk bonds.

Let’s unpack this…

Since the great financial crisis, extremely low interest rates allowed the total number of highly speculative corporate bonds, or “junk bonds,” to rise about 60% — a record high. Many businesses became extremely leveraged as a result. Estimates put the total amount of junk bonds outstanding at about $3.7 trillion.

The danger is that when the next downturn comes, many corporations will be unable to service their debt. Defaults will spread throughout the system like a deadly contagion, and the damage will be enormous...